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Women revolutionising D2C

In the 80s and 90s, most women at the top felt they had to act like men to succeed. Now the business world is beginning to accept that you don’t necessarily need an alpha personality, power dressing and the ability to work as if you don’t have or want children to succeed.

There are a few factors driving this shift. One of these is our growing understanding of emotional intelligence and its value in business. What are generally thought of as female qualities, such as empathy, intuition and vulnerability, are becoming sought-after traits as brands realise the importance of connecting with consumers in an increasingly busy, noisy world where people’s attention is constantly being vied for.

IAB UK released a report identifying 50 of the leading direct to consumer (D2C) brands in the UK, including Don’t Buy Her Flowers, the thoughtful gift company I launched in 2014. While all different, the 50 brands have some common traits. They all have a clear purpose that is visible in everything they do and they fill a genuine gap in the market based on the founders’ personal experience. They also super serve, creating customers rather than sales.

Interestingly the report, ‘Born Online’, finds that 32% of the 50 leading DTC brands have a female founder compared to just 5% of FTSE 100 companies – a shift that I believe we’re going to see continue.

The traditional business world is at risk of falling behind, and for some that could be a costly failure. There is a generation of women leaving the workforce after having children because they struggle to find their place in their previous roles.

Because companies are failing to enable effective flexible working practices, there is an army of intelligent, driven women setting up their own businesses rather than waiting for the corporate world to catch up. The traditional barriers to entry for retail businesses just aren’t there anymore. You can build a website and get more footfall in 12 months nationally than you could ever hope to do with a bricks and mortar business.

It shouldn’t have to be the case that for women to get ahead, they have to start out on their own. But while most businesses recognise that there is an issue with diversity that they need to address, they are still not going about this effectively. The first step in changing the culture is to take part in the debate. Women can offer inspiration, ideas and solutions to encourage change, we can be agents of change within our own workplaces, and we have to stand up. But with outdated values and systems so entrenched in the business world, it’s not going to be easy.

Another option is to vote with our feet. As people look round and see a new wave of businesses out there where people are rewarded for their passion, expectations will be raised and employers are going to have to adapt to meet those expectations.

Men also have a pivotal role to play. Something as seemingly minor as those in senior positions arranging to get in late when they take their kids to school. This not only sets an often unprecedented example to the rest of the workforce, it also enables women by sharing some of the logistics of childcare. Shared parental leave should be encouraged and diversity shouldn’t be viewed as a box-ticking exercise but a competitive advantage. The next generation expects this from both brands and employers.

Let’s face it, few can get shit done quicker than those who can get themselves ready, feed and clothe three kids, drop them at multiple childcare destinations and chuck a wash on by 8.30am. Women creating brands and products born out of their own experiences are arguably the toughest competition out there.

IAB (UK) research found here.

Steph Douglas is founder of Don’t Buy Her Flowers.

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